Don’t be a turkey at this year’s office Christmas party

Santa says, “Be APPROPRIATELY festive.”

Top Tips

Although the office Christmas party is THE highlight of the year and an excellent opportunity for staff at all levels to mingle and to let their hair down at the end of a long hard year, both employers and employees alike should be very aware that the office Christmas party is primarily a professional workplace event (wherever the party is held).

With daily worldwide news reports about inappropriate behaviour in the workplace and online social media postings instantaneously exposing photographs of shenanigans at any work or social event anywhere on the planet, any scandalous or distasteful publicity can (and usually do) cause irreparable reputational damage to corporate brands (however big the company), and can be career-ending for employees (however senior they are).

This jolly seasonal message gives ‘top tips’ for staging a publicity-free and career-saving office Christmas party!

Be Careful What You Wish For

The office Christmas party is not the appropriate venue to conduct annual staff appraisals or to make promises about bonuses or pay rises in the New Year. Even informal comments on staff performance or remuneration may (and probably will) be misconstrued, and could ultimately lead to unwanted and unintended employment disputes.

Avoid at all costs (and run away from) any kind of conversations about work performance, salary and bonuses.

Christmas Kisses…No No No!

The office Christmas party is definitely not the place for office romance. Be professional and don’t cross any (personal or other) boundaries which you would not cross on any ordinary work-day in the office. Even at the office Christmas party (whether or not held in the office), employers remain liable for acts of harassment, discrimination, assault, or other inappropriate conduct of their employees. If these types of allegations are made during or after the party, employers should follow their usual disciplinary processes, and properly investigate the complaint before any action is taken.

Mistletoe as a decoration is best avoided…

Christmas Tipple – Not Topple (this particular tip will be unpopular amongst staff)!

Although at most office Christmas parties, alcohol is free-flow (and often pretty good quality), this is an offer, not a challenge.

Employers should be wary about the consequences of providing free-flow alcohol at work functions. In a recent case in the UK, the Fair Work Commission emphasised that employers cannot hold their employees to the same standard of conduct at work functions where the employer provides unlimited alcohol. Consequently, the amount of free-flow alcohol provided by employers at their work events may well have unwanted consequences for the contentious issue of when an employee’s intoxicated conduct at a work function may justify dismissal. Employers should, therefore, carefully consider how (and how much) alcohol is served at work functions.

As most beer adverts say these days…Drink responsibly!

Nice Outfit…

You really don’t want to be only the person dressed as an elf or a reindeer when the rest of the room is in usual smart-casual office clothes. Make sure you know the dress code by checking in advance what your colleagues are wearing and follow suit.

If your office Christmas party is fancy dress, do not take advantage of the situation by going as your favourite character from Magic Mike or Coyote Ugly!

Check the dress code, and use your common sense!

Silent Night

The office Christmas party is primarily a professional workplace event. Moaning about inefficient office systems, or complaining about your lazy boss or assistant (to your boss or assistant, or to anyone else who wants to hear), or spreading salacious office gossip about your co-workers is all behaviour that will be remembered (and known to everyone else in the office) at the start of the next working day.

Christmas good cheer and goodwill to your fellow co-workers is all you need.

Happy Hanukkah 

Both employers and employees should be culturally sensitive, and respectful of employees who, for whatever reason, may not want to drink alcohol or eat certain foods. Employers should make sure that there are plenty of alternatives.

Employers should generally be mindful of the different ways in which their employees will celebrate the holiday season, especially in such a diverse city as Hong Kong.

#NotSoSecret Santa

Social media posts about office parties (especially Christmas ones) is just generally a very, very bad idea.

Seeing as issues with social media in the workplace are becoming increasingly common, staff handbooks should be updated to include a comprehensive policy on what is, and (more importantly) what is unacceptable for employees to post online. Employers should make sure that the staff handbook is up-to-date and may wish to consider circulating it (by way of a gentle reminder) to all employees shortly before the office Christmas party.

Don’t mix your drinks, and definitely don’t mix social media and the office Christmas party!

No “After-Party” in Santa’s Grotto 

Prior to the Christmas party, employers should make it clear that any “after-party” is not part of any work function, is not part of the office Christmas Party, and is something which employees attend in a private social setting, so as to minimise exposure to liability for any after-hours shenanigans in Lan Kwai Fong or Soho. 

Separating the two functions will not totally eliminate liability for any misconduct by employees at any “after-party“, but should minimise risk.

I’ll Be Coming Home for Christmas

Employers should plan party transport logistics. If the party is after work on a weekday (which is usually the case in Hong Kong) and some distance from the office, employers should arrange transport from the office to the party venue.

Employers should also consider how employees will get home after the party if there are limited public transport options in the area. If alcohol is served (which it will be), employers should be mindful about drink driving, so it is a good idea to provide transport home at the end of the event. If this is difficult or impractical to arrange (as it invariably will be), employers should send out an email to all staff as a matter of good practice before the office Christmas party to discourage drink driving.

Leave the car at home on the day of the office Christmas party!

Christmas Morning After The Night Before

A lousy hangover (and last night’s acute embarrassment) are not good reasons for calling in sick the next morning.

Employees calling in sick the morning after the office Christmas party (especially those who made a bit of a spectacle of themselves late at night on the dance floor) may find themselves the subject of a disciplinary investigation for unauthorised absence from work.

That said, if the office Christmas party is held on a working weeknight, employers should not expect Christmas miracles the next morning, and should be clear about expectations at the office the next day, the extent to which lateness will or will not be tolerated, and what disciplinary action may be taken if those expectations are not met.

Try to have the office Christmas party on a Friday!

Bah Humbug!

Most importantly, go to the party and have a good time!

Although attendance at the office Christmas party is usually optional, the reality is that no one likes a Scrooge, and not attending the office Christmas party doesn’t usually go down too well with colleagues.

With all these ‘top tips’ in mind, make sure to have a very merry (and politically correct, responsible, and mindful) Christmas!

Kevin Bowers

The above is not intended to be relied on as legal advice and specific legal advice should be sought at all times in relation to the above.

If you would like to discuss any of the matters raised in this article, please contact:

Kevin Bowers
Consultant | E-mail

Disclaimer: This publication is general in nature and is not intended to constitute legal advice. You should seek professional advice before taking any action in relation to the matters dealt with in this publication.